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'I'm getting long in the tooth'

By JASON WILDE

GREEN BAY –  There’s only thing that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t like about having Jeff Saturday as his new starting center: The fact that he won’t have him for more than a year or two.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback and reigning NFL MVP bumped into Saturday’s old quarterback with the Indianapolis Colts, new Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and admitted that he’s a little bit jealous of the 12 seasons Manning and Saturday had together.

“I actually got to talk to Peyton at the ESPYs, and he was asking about Jeff,” Rodgers said in advance of his first game work with Saturday – in the Packers’ preseason opener at San Diego on Thursday. “I said, ‘The one regret I have is, I wish he was a few years younger because it’d be fun to play with him five, six years.’ But we’re going to enjoy the time we get together, and I think he’s going to do a great job for us.”

Told of Rodgers’ comments, Saturday laughed.

“I tell you, those guys are awfully lucky to have me as a center,” he replied. “No, I'm just kidding. It's incredible. How blessed can you be? You go from MVP to MVP and both guys are well deserving. Aaron is an absolute stud. I've been impressed with his work ethic, I've been very impressed with his knowledge of the offense, and I’m excited to have a chance to win with him. Let's go try to put another trophy on the shelf, man.”

At 37, it’s unclear just how long Saturday intends to play after he signed a two-year, $7.75 million contract ($1.65 million signing bonus, $1.1 million base salary for 2012 and a $1.2 million per-game roster bonus) this spring to replace departed center Scott Wells. He has admitted on several occasions that he could go one-and-done and not play another year.

“I don’t know. We’ll see how it all works out,” said Saturday, who has missed only six of a possible 192 games over the past 12 seasons, starting all 16 games in 10 of those years. “If we all stay healthy – obviously that’s the key to this game – and I’ve been very fortunate and blessed with my career to be healthy … as long as I stay healthy, we’ll keep rolling with it. And when I’m not, that’s when you hang ‘em up.”

Wells, who went to St. Louis for a four-year, $24 million free-agent contract ($13 million in guarantees), earned his first Pro Bowl nod last season and at age 31 is six years younger than Saturday. Saturday, meanwhile, suffered through the Colts’ 2-14 season last year and could have followed Manning to Denver but chose Green Bay instead. He’s a good fit for the Packers because of coach Mike McCarthy’s plans to use the no-huddle offense even more extensively than he did last year.

While Rodgers may not be doing the same wild gesticulations that Manning became famous for in Indianapolis, he will be making even more calls at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees from the defense, and much like Wells before this, he’ll rely on Saturday to make the right identifications and line calls. That’s why Thursday’s game at San Diego, even if the starters only play one or two series, will be valuable to their working relationship.

“It’s good to get some live-game reps with him. He’s done it for a long time, so I don’t think he needs too much of a training camp to get ready to play,” Rodgers said. “But I think him and I just need to make sure we’re seeing the game the same way. It’s great having a guy with so much knowledge who’s been in a system that’s run some up-tempo stuff before in Indianapolis. I think we’ll have a great relationship.”

Even with all his experience and five Pro Bowl selections, Saturday has had to adjust to a new offense and a new team. He called the Indianapolis and Green Bay offenses “totally different” because the Packers’ scheme, while it has evolved a lot under McCarthy, is still rooted in West Coast offense concepts.

"He has to work at it, with different techniques and getting used to new guys and so forth – terminology and schemes and those things,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “Slowly but surely, it's starting to decrease. He's doing a good job with it. Everybody on that line makes calls and so he's not completely boxed in to making all the calls.”

For his part, Saturday said he’s been relying on guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang for help. While they both have reputations for being a bit goofy – they were the wacky practical jokers behind the minicamp uniform gag that had backup left guard Evan Dietrich-Smith donning a “Friday” jersey and Sitton suiting up in a “Sunday” jersey – Saturday said they’ve actually helped this old dog learn a new offense.

“One of the main reasons I’m here is because of those two guys,” Saturday said. “I’m getting long in the tooth. I need some guys who know that they’re doing.

“I like those guys. They’ve been everything I expected. Can’t wait to get in a real game with them.”

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.

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